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Preview: Highlanders v Sharks

03rd May 2013 07:11

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Hosea Gear Highlanders v Sharks SR 2012

Battle of Dunedin: Highlanders v Sharks

After suffering eight successive losses, the Highlanders will be a desperate side when they host the Sharks in Dunedin on Saturday.

Th home side were amongst the early favourites to win the tournament, at the start of the campaign, but things have gone pear-shaped for coach Jamie Joseph and his troops.

Their eight straight losses, is the Highlanders' worst start ever to a Super Rugby season. In 2008, they lost their first six games of the season before beating the Lions in Dunedin.

Of those eight defeats, their biggest losing margin came against the Cheetahs in Round four when they lost 36-19 in Dunedin and their narrowest loss came against the Reds in Round seven when they beaten 34-33 at the same venue.

They will, however, be well rested after having a bye last week.

It's difficult to pinpoint where the Highlanders' faults lie but something that has been evident throughout their campaign is their inability to play as a unit.

On too many occasions, their forwards and backs have been on different wavelengths and if they want to claim that elusive win this is an area which they must improve in.

The loss of Ma'a Nonu in midfield through injury has been offset by the return of fellow All Black Tamati Ellison, who makes his first appearance of the season after a lengthy spell on the sidelines after shoulder surgery.

Despite their poor form, players like Ben Smith and Hosea Gear have been playing well and if the Highlanders want to be successful they should try to create space for these potent attacking weapons to exploit.

Although they are in a better position than the Highlanders, the Sharks are in the midst of a slump of their own after losing their last three matches.

The showed plenty of resolve to fight back against the Chiefs last weekend, but still didn't do enough to win.

Coach John Plumtree was however happy with the four tries his team scored in Hamilton for only their second try-scoring bonus point of the season after they had gone try-less for three matches before that.

"We took a step up in the try-scoring department against the Chiefs when we scored four tries against the current champions and we're hoping we can continue that this week against the Highlanders," he said.

"We took some confidence out of the way we played, but at end of day, we lost and that's disappointing. The players are really disappointed.

"They've lost three games in a row and we're under pressure now, we can't really afford to lose any more and we have to create that desperate edge that will drive us hard on the weekend.

"It's tough times for all of us but the players need to have the confidence to go out there and play on the weekend - that's certainly been something we've talked about."

Prediction: Both sides are not in the best of form but with Brad Thorn celebrating his 100th game in the competition his team-mates will be motivated to do it for the former All Black. Highlanders by four points!

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Phil Burleigh, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Jason Emery.

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Piet Lindeque, 22 Odwa Ndungane / Derick Minnie.

Date: Saturday, May 4
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
Television match official: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

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